Andrei Vasilevskiy skating again after operation

Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was a fill-in starter for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final in June.
Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was a fill-in starter for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final in June.
Published Sept. 15, 2015

BRANDON — Lightning backup goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy had just finished a typical upper-body workout in late August when he noticed something that was anything but normal.

His left hand was blue and swollen, as was his upper arm.

"I think, '(Stuff) happens,' " Vasilevskiy recalled Monday.

With the symptoms disappearing by the next morning, Vasilevskiy, 21, figured he was fine. But when it happened again after Vasilevskiy's first skate at the Ice Sports Forum in early September, team doctors sent the prized Russian prospect to Tampa General Hospital.

A couple days later, Vasilevskiy had surgery to remove a blood clot from his left collarbone, sidelining him two to three months and making goaltending a major focal point when training camp opens Thursday.

That's why it was encouraging that Vasilevskiy returned to the ice Monday, albeit just doing some light skating and movements in the crease. He said he's feeling good, "almost like before surgery," but understands he'll have to be patient as he's expected to be on blood thinners for at least two months. Until he's off them, he can't face shots.

"I want to be quick on the ice, play games," Vasilevskiy said. "But I should be smart, not play so quick after surgery. It takes some time to recover. We'll see."

Vasilevskiy said he wasn't scared about the clot, with doctors clearly explaining that his condition, thoracic outlet syndrome, is caused by bones pinching the vein. The surgery, which fixed the clot and removed part of a rib, is not expected to have any long-term impact on his body or promising career.

Dr. Karl Illig, who performed the surgery, said 90 to 95 percent of elite athletes return to their previous form. It is, however, unusual to find the condition in a hockey player, Illig said. It is more common with swimmers, baseball pitchers and tennis players.

"It looks scary, two to three months," Vasilevskiy said. "But it's actually not. It's my body. If it's going to recover fast, I'll be ready soon."

Vasilevskiy said he has been able to work out since the surgery, though he is careful with his left shoulder — the 3-inch scar around his collarbone a constant reminder. He has a followup this month to monitor his progress. In general, Illig said, two months is the minimum time to be on blood thinners.

Vasilevskiy said he doesn't expect to need extra padding once he can face shots.

"We'll see; maybe guys will shoot easy for me in the first couple days," Vasilevskiy said with a smile.

Without him, there will be a camp-long battle to be his temporary replacement as Ben Bishop's backup. Kristers Gudlevskis is the leading in-house candidate, with veteran Ray Emery, on a camp tryout invite, expected to compete, along with Adam Wilcox.

When Vasilevskiy returns, he believes he'll be even more mentally and physically prepared, having gone through an impressive rookie season. He appeared in 16 regular-season games after his NHL debut in mid December, going 7-5-1 with a 2.36 goals-against average in 16 games.

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"I learned a lot of things," Vasilevskiy said. "It was the best season of my life. So many good memories for me."

That included a fill-in start in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final as he was thrust into action after Bishop suffered a torn groin. Vasilevskiy stopped 17 of 19 shots in a 2-1 loss.

"The best experience of my life," Vasilevskiy said. "It was fun. I had a lot of pressure and other things. Right now, I'm not afraid of (anything)."

Contact Joe Smith at Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.